CAPPS is very happy to report that the judicial veto reform bill HB 5273 passed the Senate Judiciary committee on September 6, 2017, by a bipartisan 4-0 vote. The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

CAPPS has long worked to address the parole review procedures that have kept parolable lifers incarcerated past their first parole eligibility dates, regardless of their current risk to public safety. Among these is the ability of a successor to the sentencing judge to prevent the board from paroling a lifer by simply saying, “I object.”

About a quarter of parolable lifers for whom the parole board sets a public hearing date are vetoed, primarily by successor judges. These judges have no personal knowledge of the case and get their information primarily from prosecutors or the presentencing report. As a result, the hearing is cancelled and the lifer is typically required to wait another five years before being considered again.

HB 5273, sponsored by Rep. Dave Pagel (R-Oronoko Twp.) eliminates the authority of successor sentencing judges to veto grants of parole to lifers.  The bill will still allow the sentencing judge to veto parole as long as he or she is still sitting in the court where the prisoner was convicted. The successor judge would still be notified and able to express an opinion but that opinion would no longer be controlling.

The Michigan Judges Association and the American Friends Service Committee, Michigan Criminal Justice Program, are among the organizations supporting the bill.

HB 5273 amends the corrections code as follows:

Parole shall not be granted if the sentencing judge files written objections to the granting of the parole within 30 days of receipt of the notice of hearing. But the sentencing judge’s written objections shall bar parole only if the sentencing judge is still in office in the court before which the prisoner was convicted and sentenced. A sentencing judge’s successor in office may file written objections to the granting of parole, but a successor judge’s objections shall not bar the granting of parole under subsection (7). If written objections are filed by either the sentencing judge or the judge’s successor in office, they shall be made part of the prisoner’s file.

Last April, Barbara Levine testified before the House Criminal Justice Committee, which passed the bill with an overwhelming bipartisan majority vote on June 12.

We will let members know when that vote is scheduled. Please watch for our electronic newsletter.